Literacy Tips

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 17th

posted Feb 19, 2019, 6:19 AM by Courtney Richardson

Why do some children drop the endings when they read?
A frequent concern teachers have when listening to ELL students read is the students leave endings off words.  I am often asked how to address this.  The linguistics that underpin this common problem are actually easy to understand…
In Latin-based European languages, words tend to end with continuous or open sounds, so ending sounds blend right into the initial sounds of the next spoken word.  The idea of “Romance” languages stems from this common trait among these languages - words flow so melodically from one to the next that they’re pleasant to listen to.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with English – as it is not known for being a very pleasant language to listen to.  Many endings for English words are derived from German and Dutch - languages that are much more harsh-sounding than Latin languages.   
For students whose native language is Latin-based, their tongues are not trained in pronouncing and stopping sounds as abruptly as a native English speaker.  Non-native English speakers have no concept of certain “stop” sounds because they are not typical features of their native languages.  Non-native English-speaking students tend to read words how they would be pronounced phonetically in their native languages because the neural pathways for those letter sound correspondences in English haven’t been firmly established.
This is how the power of literally a few minutes of explicit instruction during a guided reading lesson can make such a profound difference in developing students’ reading and writing skills.  During a guided reading lesson, we can prompt students to read all the way through the words and teach them these ending sounds if they are not pronouncing them.  Then they need to consciously pronounce and annunciate these sounds as they read aloud softly to themselves. 
If leaving off endings is a common problem with several of your students in a guided reading group, then teaching these concepts can be threaded into your Word Study and Guided Writing.  You can use Analogy Charts, found on the Resources (Guided Word Study) page, to teach the different sounds for the -ed, -s, and -es endings.  All it takes to establish those neural pathways for English sounds is a few minutes of laser-targeted instruction scaffolded perfectly within a few guided reading lessons.
Written by: Julie Taylor, Next Step Literacy Consultant.  You can contact Julie at

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 10th

posted Feb 10, 2019, 6:58 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Feb 10, 2019, 6:59 PM ]

Word Study “Cheat” sheet
In my book, The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (2016), there are several activities for teaching word study. Each activity uses a different approach for teaching students letters, sounds, phonemic awareness and phonic skills. In order to get the most benefit out of these activities, teachers must follow the procedures. Laura Robinson, a reading teacher from Georgia, had the idea of condensing the procedures into a few pages so teachers could tape the pages to their guided reading tables as a ready reference for instruction. I’ve posted the Word Study “Cheat” Sheet under the Resources page (Guided Word Study section) of my website for you to download. Remember the ultimate goal of word study is not just to learn skills, but to apply these skills during reading and writing. Happy “cheating!”

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 3rd

posted Feb 4, 2019, 4:48 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Feb 4, 2019, 4:48 PM ]

Teaching Comprehension During Whole Group Instruction
As an instructional coach in an urban school with a student population that is 100% free and reduced lunch, teachers constantly ask, “How do we remediate students who score consistently below expectation on formative and summative assessments that measure comprehension. Everyone at my school has had extensive training using Jan Richardson’s Guided Reading plan. So I created “Model Monday” that utilizes the comprehension modules from chapter 7 in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.
What is Model Monday?
Model Monday follows the gradual release model. First the teacher selects one of the modules described in chapter 7 of Jan’s book. Once the teacher chooses the Module that fits the standard they are trying to remediate, the teacher then chooses the progressive step that fits the needs of their students and prints off the comprehension card that goes with that Module. During the first five minutes, the teacher explicitly models the thinking behind the strategy. The next five minutes is the “we do” portion of the lesson. Students work in pairs to practice the strategy and discuss the text as the teacher listens to the students’ conversations. The last 10 minutes is where the teacher releases the students to do the work independently. While the students do this independent work, the teacher walks around and takes notes on individual students, rating each one on a scale of 1-5.  durpose of the conferring notes is to rate their students’ understanding of the skill taught to see if further remediation needs to occur.  After the Module has been taught, the comprehension card can now be used at a station and, or, independent reading activity.  
How to implement Model Monday at your school
To start implementing Model Monday I would suggest going through the stages below: 
Stage 1:
Use grade level text to model the lesson, to practice the strategy, and for students to work with independently. 
Students would be using the same text that the teacher modeled with or a text that was provided in the grade level units that the county provides teachers.  The teachers will read the entire text for the primary grade and the intermediate grades will read the text on their own. 
This is an excellent opportunity to use scaffolding for students that struggle with grade-level text.  For example, there is an ESE student in third grade reading at level C.  The teacher in this room would need to read the text to him, while practicing a retelling strategy.  
Stage 2: Looks like stage 1 but now you differentiate the text.
Use grade-level text to model and practice the lesson, then differentiate the text to match independent reading levels for mastery.  Use the Model Monday Conferring Notes to decide next steps for the following Model Monday. 
Since you only have 20 minutes, familiar articles and excerpts from books that teachers have already shared with the class work best for Model Monday. But when the students go to their seat to practice the strategy, they read a text at their independent level.  I feel, that if you put the students at a grade- level text you are no longer remediating the standard through the strategy, instead you’re helping them decode the text to understand what they are reading.  
Stage 3: Looks like stage 2, but now you use the Conferring Notes sheet. 
Use grade-level text to model and practice the lesson, independent reading levels for independent practice to look for mastery.  Use the Model Monday Conferring Notes to decide the next steps for the following Model Monday, the next step for guided reading groups, and the ELA block. 
Note, the stages above are suggested ways to gradually ease staff and teachers into implementing Model Monday.  Each stage is a new week.  By week three, Model Monday will be running with fidelity by having the following components:
• Teacher is using "I do", "you do", "we do" within the 20 allotted minutes.
• Teacher is using grade level text for "I do" and "you do"
• Teacher is differentiating text so each child has his/her independent reading level text in front of him for the "you do"
• Teacher is using Conferring Notes to set next step goals for the following Model Monday and for guided reading groups
• Teacher is using conferring notes to conference with students about their individual next step goals
• Teacher has a station with differentiated texts for students to practice the Comprehension Card again on their own with a different text 
My ultimate goal is to have the teachers confer with all students in the room using the Conferring Notes to set individual next steps and goals for each learner
The teacher should confer with every student by the end of the week.  
Teachers will confer with their on-or-above grade level students first on Model Monday.  Since teachers will be seeing the below-level students in small group instruction and the conferring notes from guided reading can be used.  
Through the course of the week, the other students will be conferred with during independent reading time of the ELA block. 
It is important to keep good notes on the conferring sheets.  This way you can see if 80% of your class has scored a level 3 or 4 on the conferring rubric and you can move on from that standard. At the same time, if only a handful of students need remediation on that standard the teacher could then group those students together for Jan Richardson’s Guided Reading to remediate the standard once again.  This would take place after analyzing anecdotal notes to see where the gaps are occurring.  
If you have further questions on Model Monday, feel free to email me at

Written by: Jesstina Bushery 

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of January 27th

posted Jan 27, 2019, 12:24 PM by Courtney Richardson

Using Running Records with Fluent Readers
Running records are being used at higher grade levels to track progress and form small groups. To get the most information out of the running record, it is important to analyze the quality of errors the student is making. Intermediate fluent readers (and adults) often make insignificant errors. They may omit articles, substitute words that make sense, and ignore some errors if they don’t change the meaning of the passage. These errors are not significant and are actually typical of what good readers (and teachers) do when they read aloud.  
Most often the greatest value of a running record on fluent readers is the comprehension conversation that occurs after reading. Ask the student to retell the story and listen for these things:
1. Does the student remember the most important information?
2. Does the student retell events in sequence?
3. Does the student ask and answer questions about the text?
4. Is the student able to provide a concise summary that captures the main idea and important details?
You can prepare specific questions for discussing the text or use the Comprehension Interview included on pages 223-226 of The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. This interview can be used on any text at any time during the year, which provides a formative assessment for comprehension. Remember, to look beyond the score and pinpoint a strategy or two you need to teach next.  That’s the true value of a running record.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of January 20th

posted Jan 21, 2019, 6:29 AM by Courtney Richardson

Using Running Records as Formative Assessments
As a guided reading consultant, when I model lessons, I always take at least one or two quick informal running records to model how to use the power of formative assessment to accelerate students’ literacy development. It’s amazing how such a quick assessment creates so many ah-ha moments.
Formative assessment is a well-documented teaching and learning process, which is the only type of assessment practice linked to increasing student achievement. It has shown to be one of the most effective practices for struggling readers and English language learners (Williams, 2018). As opposed to a “one-and-done” assessment, formative assessment is a process, or framework for teaching and learning where teachers adjust and individualize instruction to fit the needs of students based on their observations.  This process involves collecting in-the-moment data from an informal running record to make adjustments to teaching and giving students feedback about how to improve aspects of their reading and self-monitoring processes.
The space on the back of the Next Step lesson plans allows for the teacher to take these informal running records that help to identify student needs “in-the-moment” that will be addressed in teaching points or as feedback given immediately after the reading has ended.  Two aspects of the formative assessment process are particularly paramount to effective literacy instruction – following these assessments with high-quality corrective instruction and giving students additional chances to demonstrate success (Guskey, 2007).  
Current trends in education call for the increased use of the formative assessment process, as it is evidence-based and provides sound instruction for all students.  The research success associated with formative assessment is substantial and equals between one and two years of student growth (Black & William, 1998; Wiliams, 2018).  Planning Next Step lessons based on these informal running records lends itself perfectly to harnessing the power of formative assessment!

Written by: Julie Taylor, Next Step Literacy Consultant.  You can contact her at

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of January 13th

posted Jan 13, 2019, 6:05 PM by Courtney Richardson

Fluent Word Study
A recent article in the International Literacy Association’s journal The Reading Teacher (Manyak, Baumann, & Manyak, April 2018) highlights simple steps for word study with fluent readers. These steps emerged as part of a research study on effective ways to teach intermediate grade students to engage in morphological analysis or “the process of using affixes, base words, and root words to infer the meaning of words.” In my work with students, I have found that these steps can easily be integrated into the Next Steps fluent lesson plan over the course of 1-2 lessons (about 5-8 minutes total). Below you’ll find a brief description of these steps. While these steps should not be the sole opportunity for students to engage in word study, they are a start and can be a regular part of the fluent stage guided reading lesson.
A two-page word document entitled “Fluent Stage Word Study Grades 3-5” has been posted in the Resources section of this site. This resource includes more details and visuals from lessons that I have taught. If you are a member of ILA or have access to the journal The Reading Teacher, I’d also encourage you to locate the article by Manyak and colleagues for more information: “Morphological Analysis Instruction in the Elementary Grades: Which Morphemes to Teach and How to Teach Them” (The Reading Teacher, April 2018). 
Steps for Introducing a New Family of Affixes
1) Introduction of an affix family: Present and discuss a chart that includes the name of the affix family and each prefix or suffix in that family. For example, if you are introducing the “not” affix family, you might present a chart with the three prefixes: un-, in-, dis-.
2) Analyze words: Explain how the affixes (that you introduced) affect the meaning of a word and discuss examples. You might say: When you see a ‘not’ family prefix, try saying the word “not” before the rest of the word. For example, in the word ‘unhappy,’ you would say “not happy” to see if that makes sense. (Share other examples like uncomfortable, incorrect, disinfected and let students practice substituting “not” for the prefix.)
3) Examine affixed and pseudo-affixed words: Share with students that some words that begin with the prefix letters may not actually contain the prefix. In the case of the “not” affix family, you might encourage students to test a word by replacing the prefix letters with the word “not.” Give them examples of affixed and pseudo-affixed words to try like uncle, unkind, uniform.
4) Practice building words: Present a set of cards that have the prefixes and a set of cards that have base words. Give a definition for a word (like “not comfortable” for the word “uncomfortable”) and ask a student to build the word using a prefix card and a base word card. If these words are unfamiliar vocabulary, spend some time discussing the meanings of these words.
5) Quiz: Provide statements for the students to complete using some of the words they just built. For example, to quiz students for the word “incorrect,” you might say: If I said that 2+2 equals 5, you would tell me that is ________. 
6) Collection challenge: Challenge students to find or notice words that include the targeted affixes and add them to a chart posted in the classroom.

Written by: Sunday Cummins

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of January 6th

posted Jan 6, 2019, 5:48 AM by Courtney Richardson

Using Running Records to Make Instructional Decisions
Many teachers are required to take formal running records to assess each student’s reading level. Spending a few minutes listening to a child read in a one-on-one-setting is one of the most powerful assessment tools you have available to you as a teacher of young readers. Running records are often scored by computing the student’s accuracy level. However, they also tell you if the student monitors, rereads, and self-corrects. By looking for trends in the student’s errors, you can learn what strategic actions the student uses to problem-solve unfamiliar words. Since the student reads aloud, you will be able to assess fluency, intonation, and expression. 
Many teachers take a running record to determine if the student is ready to tackle a text at a higher level. If you use an unfamiliar text to make acceleration decisions, keep in mind that the student will be reading that higher text level with teacher support. During guided reading the teacher provides a book introduction that pre-teaches a few unfamiliar words. Additionally, the teacher confers with individual students and prompts for strategic activity. A student who reads an unfamiliar text with 90-94% accuracy and some comprehension is certainly ready to read that text level and maybe one text higher during guided reading. Go beyond the accuracy level and ask yourself, “What do I know about this reader and how will I use that knowledge to guide my instructional next steps?” Running records give much more information that a text level. If you analyze the student’s reading errors and behaviors, the running record can tell you what to teach next during guided reading.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of December 30th

posted Dec 27, 2018, 3:50 PM by Courtney Richardson

Challenges of teaching a whole group lesson
There is a seductive efficiency in teaching one lesson to the whole class. Every student receives the same instruction in about 20 minutes. However, teaching whole-class lessons has its challenges. The chart below lists some of the problems of whole-group teaching and offers suggestions for solving these problems.  I hope you find an idea you can use.

Implementing Whole Group Instruction: Challenges & Solutions




I can’t get the lesson done in 20 minutes!

o   Use a timer

o   Be prepared. Use sticky notes to mark places in the book where you plan to model the strategy, and have students practice it with a partner.

o   Be concise. The less you talk, the more they listen.

o   Stop the lesson after 20 minutes and finish it later in the day or on the following day. Students will be less attentive if you extend the lesson beyond 20 minutes.


How can I keep every student listening and engaged?

o   Use kinesthetic activities (hand motions, props, movement, etc.) to keep students involved in the lesson. Individual students or partnerships can stand when they share their thinking. You might think of hand motions to explain something in the text. Including movement keeps students engaged.

o   Use partner talk about every 3-5 minutes.

o   Direct students’ attention to the illustrations. Discuss inferences and conclusions that can be made from text features.

o   Use choral reading and chain responses.

o   Rotate students’ positions on the carpet. Each week have a different group of students sit in the front row.

o   Use talking sticks. Write each student’s name on a craft stick and place the sticks in a cup. When you ask a question, choose a stick from the jar. The student whose name is on the stick responds first.

English Language Leaners

How can I encourage participation from quiet students and those with limited English skills?

o   Form talk partners with dyads and triads that include multi-language levels.

o   Provide sentence stems to support oral responses.

o   Ask students to repeat what another student says.

o   Use a speaker ball or karaoke microphone to increase the speaker’s volume.

o   Always listen to a student’s response before you ask the student to share with the whole group. This reduces the student’s anxiety because you have already approved their response.


Some students aren’t using the strategy independently

o   Always model at the beginning of the lesson. Then do the task with the students several times before you ask them to apply the strategy independently.

o   Gradually release responsibility. Carefully observe students to determine when it is appropriate to give them more responsibility for doing the strategy.

o   Provide different levels of support to individual students so that all of them can be successful participants.

o   Hold students accountable by requiring a short, written response at the end of the lesson. Use these responses to determine how much support you need to provide during small group guided reading lessons. 


Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of December 16th

posted Dec 16, 2018, 7:38 PM by Courtney Richardson

From Whole Group to Small Group Instruction
Recently, I had the privilege of modeling lessons for classroom teachers and literacy coaches in Chattanooga, TN. The focus of the training was to show how to increase the effectiveness and efficiency by teaching the same comprehensions strategy during whole group and guided reading lessons. For example, in second grade, I taught a whole-group lesson on vocabulary strategies (module 7) using the picture book, Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant. Then after that 20-minute lesson, I taught the same strategy in a guided reading lesson using a different text at the group’s instructional reading level. Threading the same strategy from whole to small group instruction saves time during the guided reading lesson because you don’t have to model the strategy.
After the lessons, I met with the teachers to reflect on the process. We came to the conclusion that teaching whole class lessons is an efficient way to model a comprehension strategy, but the most important part of the process is supporting the students as they practice the comprehension strategy with a text at their level. Next week I’ll share some of the challenges of teaching a whole-class lesson and some techniques you might try to help solve the problems.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of December 9th

posted Dec 10, 2018, 4:25 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Dec 10, 2018, 7:00 PM ]

Read, Talk, and Write
The discussion that occurs in a guided reading lesson is critical to developing strategic reading and comprehension. I’ve discovered a wonderful book by Laura Robb that includes dozens of ideas for creating rich conversations in your literacy lessons. In Read, Talk, Write: 35 lessons that teach students to analyze fiction and nonfiction (2017, Corwin) you’ll find prompts and guidelines for teaching a variety of comprehension strategies. I’ve been using several of her ideas in my guided reading lessons. I love the last two paragraphs of the book:
Sometimes the pressure we teachers feel to improve test scores by using premade test-prep practice and worksheet packets can reduce student’s engagement with tasks and their motivation to work hard to achieve. Literary conversations and writing about reading are authentic tasks that research has shown improves learning in all subjects. 
Remember the research on fourth-grade teachers that Allington, Johnston, and Pollack Day (2002) conducted, concluding that it’s the teacher who makes the difference in students’ learning and achievement. You are the key to developing highly literate students! And when you make learning meaningful for students with literary conversations and writing about reading, you keep students at the center of instruction, inspiring them to read, think, talk, and write –and continually improve their reading and writing expertise!
This book will help you improve student engagement and motivation and give your practical tips for enhancing literary discussions during guided reading and beyond. I highly recommend it.

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